Because it’s open season on the presidential election and almost the end of summer vacation, inflammatory rhetoric and family barbecues are both on “sizzle.” Without careful monitoring by an attentive host, these can end in a conflagration. You have to learn precisely how to gauge temperatures and when to put a lid on it.
It’s also true for the grill.
And unless every member of your family drinks directly from the same candidate’s Kool-Aid, you’re going to witness a political argument in your household.
It’s uncomfortable, right, when those you love start growling and reciting statistics that they’ve just invented? What should you do? Simply hold your tongs and prepare for battle?
After all, you just know somebody at your table is going to mention government spending, reproductive rights and gun control.
Then somebody else will counter with reproductive spending, gun rights and government control.
A third will rant about control spending, government rights and gun reproduction.
Mix-and-match those six words: Instant major argument incurring instant yet paradoxically long-lasting bad feelings! Notice how a phrase doesn’t even have to make sense? “Gun Reproduction”? Yet I bet you didn’t even blink because you were getting all riled up, just like the relatives.
And some clown will ask whether the U.S. representative who went skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee did it as an act of religious freedom, thereby spinning the whole crew off into yet another direction – until another bozo asks what counts as “legitimate rape.” And then they’ll be off, racing around another curve.
I suggest you take the following quiz to determine your Political Host Profile:
1. You’d be willing to get into a political argument if:
a. You were confident about the issues;
b. You were addressing a friendly group composed mostly of like-minded allies;
c. You were speaking to a kitty cat.
2. You think political discussions:
a. Are positive because they clarify issues and ultimately determine election outcomes;
b. Are negative because they cause strife and ultimately lead nowhere;
c. Are best when extremely loud because they keep judgmental members of your family from noticing that your teenager has so many piercings she looks like she fell into a tackle box.
3. Your vision of a civilized political conversation involves:
a. Respectful but passionate investigations of the most significant issues;
b. Considerate and well-balanced repartee fueled by wit and framed by historical perspective;
c. Periodic and vigilant checks for concealed weapons, in full cognizance of the fact that after enough beers, a melon-baller can become a concealed weapon.
4. You believe nastiness in political disagreements can be avoided if:
a. Everyone remembers that the opposition also has in mind the best interests of our country;
b. Everyone keeps in mind that often what we’re being fed as the “truth” by the media and by extremists is composed of lies, lies and damned lies;
c. If everyone kept quiet until he or she had an original idea or observation based on research and critical thinking, not on what they just heard or read (although if that happened, it might just get too quiet and they’d notice your metallic kid).
5. You can keep a political discussion good-natured by making sure you:
a. Eavesdrop even as you attend to your duties as a host and, if you sense that tensions are becoming too strong, intervene with a new topic (“Want to hand me that melon-baller, Irma?”) or a plate of particularly chewy peanut brittle;
b. Have a balanced number of guests representing each viewpoint so that one or two individuals don’t feel set-upon by members of the oppositions;
c. Refill the glasses and plates only of those who keep their voices down and their comments polite. It worked for Pavlov and it can work for your family!
How did you do? There’s no way to pass, so I know how you did. You want to run away? Might work!
The other solution is to avoid your family until after the election. Blame it on me. Although it seems drastic, remember that by Nov. 7 family conversation will once again be safe for democracy. And maybe our great, healthy and lasting democracy will be safe from family conversation.